Star Wars ├ępisode VIII
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Pregnant by the Sheikh

By: Olivia Gates

One

Jenan Aal Ghamdi watched the man she was getting engaged to flit among throngs of congratulators—and almost barfed. Again.

It never failed. Every time she looked at him, hell, every time she thought of him, nausea overpowered her. It was a testament to her self-control that she hadn’t thrown up all over him yet.

The one thing stopping her from giving in to the compulsion was the stronger aversion to rejoining that tragic farce of an engagement celebration. It had taken her over an hour to escape the hordes of prying—and pitying—guests and take refuge at the far end of the massive ballroom. She’d managed to slink away unnoticed only because she’d refused to wear the getup her “fiancé” had sent her. He’d wanted to flaunt his newly massive wealth and drape his “acquisition” in an oppressively ornate costume complete with scaffolding. With the ton of clashing jewelry he’d provided, she would have glittered with the power of ten disco balls. As it was, in her most obscure and suitably mournful matte black evening gown, she now blended into the darkness of the ballroom’s periphery. It was a minuscule victory, but with her expectations reduced to nil, anything counted now.

Retreating farther away from everyone’s line of sight, she started breathing normally again. And a surreal sense of detachment descended on her yet again. It was as if none of this was really happening to her but to someone else. As if this was some ridiculous dream she was confident would fade into nothingness the moment she woke up.

The artificial serenity lasted only moments before the illusion splintered and reality crashed over her again, with another wave of queasiness.

She was really getting engaged to Hassan Aal Ghaanem!

The man who happened to be the king of Saraya, who held Zafrana, his neighboring desert kingdom and her homeland, hostage.

No, she wasn’t getting engaged to the man, she was being bartered to him. Sold. Tonight felt like the beginning of the end of her life as she knew it. The end of her life, period. Whatever came after marrying him wouldn’t be considered life. Not in her book.

But though this fate was inescapable, she’d still refused to have this reception in Saraya, or even in Zafrana. It had been another empty triumph when he’d relented and agreed to hold it here, in her New York City stomping grounds.

The city had been her home for the past twelve years. It would stop being so once she started serving her life sentence as Hassan’s wife. But she’d refused to go back to that region to be buried there for the rest of her life a second before she absolutely had to. She’d fled, determined to never return, except for fleeting visits, which had been few and very brief.

But she’d been regretting her insistence since the moment she’d seen that man’s over-the-top arrangements. If there was anything more abhorrent to her than Hassan himself right now, it was being the center of attention in such an extravagant, overexposed event.

If this party had been held in their homelands, it wouldn’t have gotten any coverage, what with the privacy measures imposed by the ruling class. But in the heart of New York City and in such a venue with all those high-profile attendees, this engagement party would be all over the worldwide media. Which taught her not to struggle while sinking in quicksand. Her attempt to assert herself had only made her sink deeper in this mess.

But teaching her a lesson about defying him hadn’t been Hassan’s objective in arranging this spectacle. The man considered nothing but himself. And as the king of a recently prosperous kingdom—now that King Mohab Aal Ghaanem of Jareer was giving Saraya 30 percent of the new kingdom’s massive oil wealth—Hassan Aal Ghaanem had been on a splurging spree after decades of being held back by his kingdom’s limited finances.

So here they were, in the Terrace Room at The Plaza, where many a legendary celebrity had held prominent events. After all, Hassan considered himself on par with those people.

Any other time, she would have appreciated the almost five-thousand-square-foot ballroom that had been restored to its early 1900s grandeur. When she’d been here before, the painted ceilings, cathedral-like arches and elaborate pillars leading to its wraparound gallery had transported her to the Renaissance, while the original crystal chandeliers, wall paneling and carpeting had added a golden age refinement to the classical setting. Being here now, for this horrendous occasion, it felt like the setting of her life’s worst nightmare. It literally was.

Tearing her gaze away from the five hundred guests that filled the ballroom to capacity, her eyes fell to her bare hands. She’d refused to accept the priceless pieces from Saraya’s royal jewelry to be her shabkah—what literally meant “binding.” She was damned if she’d wear his shackles for all to see...

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